Dear Research Advocate:
As I’m sure you’ve heard, the Joint Budget Committee released a two-year budget agreement Tuesday night. The package involves $63 billion in partial sequestration relief over two years, offset by fees (not taxes!) and a wide variety of cost-sharing arrangements, AKA “pay fors.” While it remains unclear whether user fees will be subjected to any sequester in 2014 and 2015, the already-sequestered FDA user fees are locked up and cannot be used to accelerate medical advances. This is a missed opportunity that patients can’t afford. While not a perfect deal in many respects, the House is expected to approve the Murray-Ryan budget deal within moments, and the Senate is expected to pass it next week.
For the advocacy community, the overall budget number is important, but the appropriations process that follows is crucial. The funding levels for NIH, CDC and AHRQ depend on the funding allocated to the Labor-H subcommittee and the FDA on the Agricultural subcommittee. Since dealmakers have not dealt with tax or entitlement reform, this will involve robbing Peter to pay Paul, and it won’t be pretty. Decisions will be made soon, as Congress is working against a January 15 deadline. Please consider contacting your Members of Congress to urge them to weigh in on how funding is allocated to appropriators and, in short order, allocated by appropriators — ask them to maximize funding for NIH, CDC, AHRQ, FDA and NSF. A report released this week by United for Medical Research, featuring a collection of stories about the negative impact that sequestration has had on NIH as well as the impact on individual research laboratories, can help you make the case.
As I told Science on Tuesday, the proposed deal represents a welcome breakthrough in bipartisanship, but it is not a solution. As the science and advocacy communities well know, the current and — barring real change — foreseeable future level of funding for research to improve health bears no resemblance to the level of resources needed to unleash the full potential of discovery and innovation. That potential is not just about improving human health and saving lives, it’s about addressing the deficit and debt as our population ages and federal health and long-term care costs rise. Slightly modifying the status quo — which is a fair way to describe the current budget deal — does not send a message of U.S. leadership to scientists, patients and families nationwide, nor to markets and to the global community.
With the passing of Nelson Mandela, I am reminded of the power and the influence that a single, unrelenting advocate can have, even when facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Whether the imperative is to close divides among peoples or turn a set of principles into a new and enduring reality, there is so much to learn from this heroic, yet humble, man. Don’t forget, as Mr. Mandela said, “it always seems impossible until it’s done.” This is definitely a sentiment we should all take to heart as advocates facing high odds.